The Dreaded Plateau

How do you put that bounce back in your step?

So you’ve had a whole string of bad days of training. Nothing you do seems to work. You’re being dominated by everyone, and getting tapped out right and left. The upside is that your training partners are ecstatic over your less than stellar performance. And can you blame them? But now you’ve had enough of it and you’re thinking you’ve got to do something to get back into the swing of things. Don't worry, this isn't the worst of it.

From time to time we all experience a down-turn in our performance. There are many reasons why this happens. You may just be having an off couple of days, you're nursing a minor injury, you're not sleeping right, you're coming off a cold, or you just got arrested the night before on an outstanding warrant and your head's just not in the game. In my case, sometimes I wake up and realize I'm 45 years old and just not as young as I used to be.

These short periods of ineptitude generally don't last too long and we're soon back in the saddle and on a normal path of progression. The real problem arises when you realize you're not just in a slump, but rather you're facing a full-on frontal assault in the form of a plateau. These plateaus generally hang on for weeks or months at a time, robbing you of your confidence and cementing your belief that in fact your performance is worsening day by day.

The problem is that you’re not sure what you need to do. Everything you’ve tried so far has failed. You tried bumping up your level of intensity, only to get gassed while your opponent easily danced around your guard, and then tapped you with a rookie submission.

Even though you knew you weren’t at the top of your game, you rolled with that particularly crafty grappler anyway, only to be rewarded with a demoralizing loss. Now that certainly was a self-fulfilling prophecy in which you subconsciously knew what the outcome would be.

And let’s not forget that your old standby technique, that favorite submission that you almost always get, is now a distant memory because everyone has figured out how to defend against it. Have I painted a sufficiently gloomy and eerily familiar picture for you? You’re experiencing the dreaded plateau (insert dramatic music here).

Now it’s time to get back to work. Your break time is over. That swamp you’ve been drudging through has totally and utterly exhausted you to the point where you’ve started to question your resolve. From the words of a particularly nasty Ranger Instruction, you can quit anytime you want, but there isn’t going to be a chopper coming in to haul your ass out, so you better dig deep and find the courage to carry on and get yourself out of this mess.

Believe me, there is hope. And as a matter of fact, these are the times when we grow the most. If this is the first time you’ve experienced a plateau, don’t worry, it won’t be your last. You’ll have plenty more opportunities to work through them.

I'm going to share with you some of my own tips that have helped me to work through my plateaus to get back on top of my game.

1. Change the focus of your training. For example, if you've been thinking about how you should start working on upping your cardio workout, this could be the perfect time to redirect your focus. If you've been thinking about how you always get tapped out by Bubba with the same technique, this could be the time to focus on just that one thing. Get with your instructor, a senior student or Bubba to figure out what you're doing wrong, what you can do to legitimately defend and counter the move.

2. Narrow your focus to concentrate on smaller goals. For example, I remember when I first realized the concept of controlling my opponent's hips while I was in their guard. I would work this one small thing to the point where I began learning new and different ways to control, using my hands, arms or body. As I progressed on this one thing, I began to learn more about how my partner moved, and this broadened my perspective on other things.

3. Take a break, clear your head. Sometimes you're too close to the trees to see the forest. Tell yourself that it's okay to take a short time away from your grappling so as to break up the routine.

4. Use your mind gym to visualize and work through various grappling scenarios. The power of this method of positive thinking is often overlooked, but can be extremely beneficial.

I would also like to share with you some great tips from Adam Adshead, at Conceptual BJJ. Adam writes from the perspective of how to revitalize your game, and uses the term, “Move One Down, in short, it basically means moving to the next viable move/position instead of falling back into old habits of going for the same things."

Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel here, take a look at Adam’s post:

Ideas on revitalising your game: ‘Move one down’

In this short video, Adam talks about his tips with a brief demonstration.


Brent said...

good article and ideas.
my bubba is ray. and his technique is his stink'in footlocks.
my new focus is footlock defense, bubba-ray.

Jerad said...

When I fall into a slump, I like to take a step back and think about what I was actually doing during training. For example I might start the class thinking about working on sweeps. During open mat I might get several good sweeps, but I end up playing around too long in dangerous positions, and get tapped out. While I may have accomplished my goal of getting sweeps, I got tapped and end up feeling like I lost. I tend to try and go back to a step by step approach when in a slump, ie 1 get posture, 2 break guard, 3 pass first leg, etc. This gets me back into the right mindset to begin working on the different parts of my game I feel need improvement.
I am curious to hear how other people get back in the groove.

Brent said...

to overcome a challenge, i usually flip a coin and tell my enemy to "call it." if they call it correctly, they live.
if they call it wrong, i put an end to them and, therefore, have gotten over my plateau.

Conan said...

That is too funny! If people only knew what a mild mannered person you are, friendo.

Here's the dealio. I'll call it, but you may not like the outcome.


Brent said...

oh man, i forgot about that guy. i still don't understand the reason for the pins in his face.
i think he could take freddie, but not jason. jason is just too vicious for anyone else, including michael myers.

sankakushime said...

Bubba, huh?

Brent said...

hey, its the name given in the article to the person that taps you with the same submission.
blame the author, not me.

Anonymous said...

Good article and I actually had to tap to an arm bar when I was in side control Friday! I was moaning like a sick little puppy from that thing. I think it’s an unwritten rule that if you get caught in an arm bar while you’re in side control, you are officially at/in a plateau.

Big Andy

Conan said...

I think I saw that one, Andy. You had "Bubba" in side control and he pulled out some bent arm lock with his legs from the bottom. I hate to bring this up, but "Bubba" seems to be the source of many of our woes...and he thinks he's in a plateau! Of course, Bubba could be anyone.

Anonymous said...


Thank ranks as one of my top two embarrassing submissions. The time you got the Mir lock on me was the other one. Both earned but left me less than amused at my mistakes. I don't mind tapping but there are definitely times when you feel almost stupid for making such mistakes. Oh well, just an ego check I guess.

Big Andy

Brent said...

if ray is going to be nicknamed "bubba" from now on, i am washing my hands right now of any such influence or involvement.
i agree, he ain't in no plateau. his jits game is skyrocketing.

sankakushime said...

thnx for the praise Brent, but i am def at a plateau. if you haven't noticed, i have been 1 on 1ing with Conan for the past few fridays. if anyone is at a plateau, it's me. but again, thnx bro, the praise is def appreciated.

Brent said...

don't believe you.

anyone who rolls with the boss is on a plateau at that given moment. rickson would be on a plateau if he came to Lincoln to roll with the barbarian.

khaddix said...

does anyone know how Dave did at his mma match? Can someone put up the video of it? THanks,Ken.

Conan said...

Let's just say David was suffering from a plateau. We probably won't be posting the fight video.

J said...

I have also recently had a string of plateau experiances. Most of mine come from a particular "bubba" who just started coming back in. He's just tough!! That however makes me want to get that much better and exploits the holes in my game. Thanks bubba.

sankakushime said...

Andy Mac is EVERYBODY'S "Bubba" reight now, or so it seems. strange huh? BTW since i spoke his name out loud....(dramatic scary music) i will soon be tapped by "Bubba"!!! hahahahaha

Dave said...

Yes I hit a plateau, it was a bummer at the time, but I have accepted it and Im ready to train! It was a demoralizing loss but it truely has made me want to work harder than ever. I think plateau's test your dedication to what your doing, and if you overcome the plateau then you know your heart is in it.

Bradley said...

Mid 40's is a genuine plateau; unless you're couture or conan

Conan said...

You guys are pretty funny. Years from now when the stories are told, I'll be seven feet tall.

Dominic said...

I love the way you write and have had similar issues in BJJ with regards to essentially hitting the wall. I wrote a blog post too on the subject and maybe you'd be interested in reading it. I'm no pro writer so go easy ha ha. brazilian jiu Jitsu blog post.